Online Sweepstakes, Games, & Contests: Navigating Legal Issues and Pitfalls

Online sweepstakes, games, and contests have become increasingly popular thanks to the widespread use of social media and iOS applications. Companies, however, often overlook the need to include proper documentation and guidelines required by state or federal laws and regulations. Moreover, today’s new technology often allows for web/app users to submit cloned entries or otherwise circumvent online rules. Likewise, the collection of personal information for sweepstakes, online games, and contests may trigger a variety of entirely different legal issues, often unbeknownst to the host company. Care should be taken before launching new sweepstakes, games, or online contests.

One of the biggest challenges with online sweepstakes and games is the state-by-state differences in rules and regulations. Before launching a new sweepstake, online contest, or game, the host should verify that it complies with the laws in every state where it is made available. This often requires an analysis of the laws of each state since many sweepstakes, games, and contests are made available to residents of all 50 states given the nature of the Internet and iOS/Android applications. Some states require registration for certain kinds of contests.

In addition to state laws, hosts of online games need to verify compliance with federal regulations and laws such as the Children Online Privacy Protection Act (“COPPA”), and similar privacy laws. Given the global nature of the Internet, attention should be given to whether compliance with foreign laws is needed or whether access to the Internet sweepstake, game, or contest is limited to US participants. The laws of European countries, for example, provide for more stringent privacy restrictions than US ecommerce law.

While companies may be able to achieve compliance with state and federal regulations on their own, retaining an ecommerce attorney is advisable due to the complexity of the legal landscape. The first step is to evaluate the associated promotional material and online rules to ensure no violations of federal and state laws, including online privacy laws. Next, the ecommerce attorney will likely analyze the entire framework of the contest, game, or sweepstake to ensure overall compliance with both state and federal law as it applies to the client. As mentioned, this may require registration in certain states and posting bonds. Lastly, the attorney will draft overall guidelines as a reference for use with any future promotions. These guidelines can be used to reduce costs for future online sweepstakes, contests, and games.

Disclaimer – As with any discussion of legal topics, this article is intended to be educational only, and is not a substitute for legal advice, nor does it provide legal advice or form an attorney-client relationship with the reader. Please seek legal counsel before making any decisions. Also, please note that this article will likely not be updated, so the law and circumstances may have changed by the time you have read this article.

3 Legal Issues You Really Should Get a Lawyer To Help You With

For some, the legal profession may seem like a caliginous area which is as inaccessible as Area 51. This is due to the level of education usually required to be qualified as a lawyer and the sheer scale of paperwork and legal tomes needed to be navigated in order to undertake even the most straight forward of legal cases.

What some people have started to do though is to try and take on legal cases themselves in an attempt to save money. This can also be due to the amount of court room dramas shown on television which make the job of a lawyer seem as easy as having a moment of inspiration and delivering an impassioned speech. In reality every case needs a massive amount of skill and research and without this some legal situations can cause financial and personal disasters for the people who try to play lawyers.

Buying A House

Trying to deal with the buying or selling of a house without a lawyer is madness. Without a lawyer to deal with the transfer of money, deeds, to cover all contracts and paperwork and to keep their eye open for legal issues, you could find yourself in a lot of hot water and without a house. This is especially important when buying a home abroad as it can often be impossible for the buyer or seller to be in the country to check up on any problems.

Set Up Business Abroad

This is the case when setting up a business abroad too. It is advisable to have both legal teams in your home country and in your destination country to negotiate the legalities of transferring bank accounts, covering taxation concerns and dealing with property as any failings from a paperwork point of view could have major repercussions for you, your business and your staff. Having a strong legal team with you for the duration with experience in setting up business abroad is extremely important. In the setup of Cyprus offshore companies for instance it is important to gain insight into the business incentives which can be taken advantage of. With a bit more inside information you take full advantage of the benefits of Cyprus company incorporation.

Police Complaints

Making a complaint against a police officer requires you to be completely covered from a legal point of view or you could be found guilty of libel or slander. When making a complaint you could end up ruining an officer’s career so you need to be 100% certain of their guilt or at least make sure you have a good case before you start making statements to the press.

12 eCommerce Legal Issues to Consider in Operating an Online Business

The following article provides a high-level summary of some key eCommerce law issues online business operators face in running a website or other eCommerce business. Conducting business online or maintaining a website may subject companies and individuals to unforeseen legal liabilities. The following is a brief survey of 12 key eCommerce law issues to consider:

1. Internet Business & eCommerce

A good starting point is analyzing a company’s online presence and auditing their procedures to determine how to grow their brand and online influence. As part of this, the company’s agreements and websites should comply with the myriad of laws and regulations affecting websites and online businesses, such as COPPA.

2. Domain Name Acquisition

Domains are often the key to an online business, but can present a number of problems. Domain name issues include securing a domain name initially, as well as protecting domain names from adverse parties that attempt to trade off the goodwill associated with the company’s brand. Sometimes, the company needs defense, retrieval, and protection of domain names on the Internet.

3. Digital Millennium Copyright Act (“DMCA”) Compliance

Companies operating websites, particularly where third-party content may be uploaded directly, should consider adopting agreements and procedures to shield themselves against claims of liability and copyright infringement. This procedure is sometimes referred to as a “copyright policy” or “DMCA takedown” procedure. Compliance with the DMCA can provide the online operator with a safe harbor from liability.

4. Online Privacy

Online privacy continues to become a bigger issue. With the spread of mobile devices, tablets, and apps, privacy issues are becoming more complex. Companies should consider composing or updating their privacy policies as well as adopting internal security protocols aimed at protecting the online privacy of customers and website users.

5. Social Media Law

While a powerful vehicle to build brand strength and interact with customers, social media can create a number of legal issues for online businesses. A social media policy provided to employees as well as guidelines can be effective steps to reduce risk. A few key areas to consider are employment related use of social media, confidentiality, sponsorship, and branding guidelines.

6. Privacy Policies

Privacy policies should not be copied from online templates or rival companies. They should be drafted comprehensively to address unique issues of a specific online business and to accommodate future growth. Whether a company looks to collect analytics or more personalized information, the company should focus on its specific business needs and risk factors. Privacy policies should be updated as a business evolves.

7. Terms of Use Agreements

Terms of Use (TOU) agreements can limit liability for companies that maintain an Internet presence. These agreements should be optimized to address a company’s specific business and should not be simply cut and pasted from the Internet. What works for one company may not work for another company.

8. eCommerce Agreements

eCommerce agreements come in many forms such as licensing, advertising agreements, and payment processor agreements. eCommerce agreements should be drafted to address the primary legal risks involved in a particular eCommerce contract or business transaction.

9. Online Sweepstakes & Games

Online sweepstakes, contests, and games create a number of legal pitfalls. Depending on the sweepstake, contest, or game, compliance with the laws of all 50 states as well as the federal government may be required. Registration in specific states may also be required. Online businesses may benefit from guidance as to whether a particular new initiative is considered a sweepstake, contest, or game.

10. Domain Theft

Recovering hijacked domains can often be difficult and time-consuming. Typically, avoiding domain theft in the first place is much easier than attempting to recover a stolen domain. While difficult, it is possible to recover a hijacked domain.

11. Website Agreements

Website agreements can be customized to limit legal liability and reduce risks of disputes by analyzing an online business’s intellectual property portfolio, business processes, and brand objectives. Website agreements can be used for mobile applications in addition to websites.

12. Impersonation and Username Squatting

Impersonation and username squatting can occur when a third party registers a social media account using someone else’s identity. This can result in harmful posts and information being published in social media. Username squatting can also prevent a trademark or brand owner from controlling their trademark. Typically, registering usernames in advance is the best strategy to avoid impersonation or username squatting.

While the above identifies a number of eCommerce and internet law issues affecting website and online business operators, an in-depth analysis may be required. For more information, you may want to contact an eCommerce attorney.

Disclaimer – As with any discussion of legal topics, this article is intended to be educational only, and is not a substitute for legal advice, nor does it provide legal advice or form an attorney-client relationship with the reader. Please seek legal counsel before making any decisions. Also, please note that this article will likely not be updated, so the law and circumstances may have changed by the time you have read this article.